Today is Small Business Saturday, and as a small business, I wanted to write about one of the biggest challenges impacting the media industry and the site today. If you want to skip all of that, we have deals at the end of the article for new subscribers, along with deals for gift certificates, and a simple request for our current subscribers.
“There is free stuff everywhere.”
That’s the biggest thing killing the media industry from advancing. Back when newspapers first started putting their stuff online, they made everything free. That decision set a precedent, and led to people expecting everything online to be free.
It wasn’t just news. You could find music, movies, and TV shows online for free, although news was the only method where you could legally get free content. Eventually the music, movie, and TV content went to paid services. You can still access them for free illegally, but it’s widely accepted that you pay for good content, leading to the rise of companies like Netflix, Hulu, and music streaming services.
Unfortunately, news hasn’t been able to keep up. There have been attempts to monetize online news. The advertising method is the most popular, but it doesn’t work.
Advertising relies largely on page views and intrusive ads. The more intrusive the ad, the higher they pay. The more page views you get, the more money you get. This leads to a combination of a lot of click bait articles, and a lot of meaningless articles meant only to increase clicks, combined with ads that become more intrusive to maximize revenue.
There have been two movements that have spawned from this issue. The first is the “Switch to video” approach you see from places like Fox Sports. You no longer find written content. Instead, everything is on video, which turns some people off, but which leads to the highest ad revenues, meaning you don’t need as many viewers to make money. You also don’t need to pay for a massive amount of written content, since that content leads to lower ad dollars, and higher costs.
The other movement has been the move to subscription sites. That’s the move we took almost three years ago. It works because you can charge a small fee and get a lot more revenue than you would with an ad service. You can also afford to pay for more content than before. The free approach supported by ads leads to a continuing decrease in quality content, and an increase in the amount of intrusive ads you will see. The subscription approach leads to more quality content.
Take this site as an example. Back when we were free, we averaged about 20,000 unique visitors per day. We would get up to 40,000 when things were busy.
The basic ad networks paid us around $3.50-$4.00 per thousand page views if we loaded a ton of banner ads on the site. The problem with that is you needed a ton of people visiting the site to make money. One person visiting two pages a day on average, every single day of the year, would only generate about $3. So if you had an average of at least 20,000 per day, you’d be looking at $60,000 per year.
That’s not enough if you want to do this full-time while also traveling to provide coverage, and paying other writers.
We switched to the subscription site and only needed 2,000 subscribers total, or 10% of our former readers, to make the same amount of money. We were able to get more than that, which allowed for the hiring of other writers, increased travel to provide more coverage, and overall more quality than we could ever provide before.
There is no comparison between the amount of quality content we can provide now, versus what we had before making the switch to a subscription site. And if you want that quality content, I think the decision would be easy between paying a few dollars a month on average, versus going through ads that become increasingly more annoying over time, all for a lower amount of quality content.
The subscription model is the way to go, in my opinion, and from a content standpoint, I’ve never regretted making the switch.
But “there is free stuff everywhere.”
That’s the biggest obstacle to overcome in news media today. The newspapers made everything free, and that became the expectation. Then independent people came along through the use of blog software. Some of those people were really good, leading to a way into the industry that didn’t require working your way up through the newspaper ranks. Some of the blogs were what you expect, just a fan page that aggregated original content, and didn’t provide anything new to the discussion.
Unfortunately, readers have a hard time distinguishing between the two.
The biggest thing we hear all the time is that you can get prospect coverage for free. Maybe that’s an MLB.com article. Maybe it’s one of the local papers writing a monthly feature. Maybe it’s on a free blog like Bucs Dugout, Rumbunter, Pirates Breakdown, or any number of sites that come and go. Or maybe it’s just information relayed on social media pages, like a Reddit forum, or a Facebook group.
You can get content for free. But that’s if you’re only worried about saving money and don’t care at all about the quality of the content you’re getting.
Let’s run through those free options for a second.
MLB.com or MiLB.com provide free reports. They often provide free reports on games that I’ve covered. And being there covering the game, it can be frustrating seeing that coverage. I’ll be at a game, paying money to travel to the location, and spending time covering the game. If anything good happens in the game, I’ve got a great story, and my time and money is well spent typically being the only person covering that event.
Unfortunately, MLB is a multi-billion dollar industry that provides free news, and has a team of writers in a centralized room, watching for big moments. That exclusive story I have? It jumps on their radar. One of those writers looks at the box score, calls the local media director, gets an interview with the player and/or the manager, asks some basic questions, and throws together a short article. So you get a free article, and it looks like they covered the event. The reality is that you get an article from someone who didn’t see a pitch or an at-bat, and only read the box score briefly before asking simple introductory questions and getting simple answers. Meanwhile, we saw every pitch and every at-bat, while building our interviews on every conversation we’ve had with the player, in order to get the best info.
Then there’s the local papers. You might get an occasional article, but it’s usually something we’ve written about, and often months ago. The main focus for the local papers isn’t the minors, but the big leagues. That secondary focus shows in the coverage when compared to a site that makes the prospect coverage the top priority.
When talking about the blogs, I’ll separate Bucs Dugout, which is partially run by Wilbur Miller, who is not only a writer on this site, but also a friend. Wilbur and I have talked about the free vs paid issue, and his feeling has been that a site like Bucs Dugout is more of a community, and not a news site like Pirates Prospects. But that comes with the disclaimer that Wilbur actually goes and covers games, and has all of our background to work with. He also shares our articles with a link back to the site — something I wish more sites would do — acknowledging our reports.
The problem here is that once news is reported, it’s only a matter of time before that becomes general knowledge. Wilbur does things the right way, sharing the content with a link back to the article, which encourages people to check it out. The hope is that people continue to see the links and sign up.
The problem is that the news eventually gets out there for free, which means you can wait, and it will be readily available without paying. Sometimes that includes sites that don’t even give us credit for the reports, so you don’t even know we reported the news. This isn’t just a blog issue. We’ve had problems in the past where writers at bigger sites will use our news and quotes without any kind of credit, to the point where they’re actually plagiarizing, thus making it look like there are multiple outlets covering a story, when it’s all one story from us.
There’s also a side issue I’ve noticed where free blogs will actually just make up information and pass it off as true (I’ve actually read a blog say that a player throws a plus slider, which came the same day that I talked to that player about working on his curveball — his only breaking pitch — to try and develop his only good breaking pitch).
As long as we’re around, you can get information from free blogs, or even the social media sites on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. But a large majority of the prospect information you will receive originates from us. Which means if enough people decided they just wanted free information, we would go out of business, and the large majority of that free information would go away.
That’s what drives me nuts about the “free content anywhere” argument. Yes, you can get free content anywhere. But that’s saying one of two things:
1. I want crappy content that covers only the basics (box scores, stats, and anything else you get from not covering the game), and sometimes might even be made up.
2. I want Pirates Prospects content, but rather than paying a small amount for it, I’m going to wait until I get the information for free on another site.
Media has a big hurdle to jump in trying to figure out the best way to monetize things in the future. I believe the subscription method is the best way to go. But that creates new challenges of trying to get people to sign up and pay for your content, which can be a challenge even when they want your content. Unfortunately, I’m not sure there’s an answer from the media side here. The solution has to come from the people who want to content, and the solution is for those people to pay a small amount for the content they want, supporting the outlet coming up with the content, rather than waiting and getting it for free elsewhere.
That’s going to be especially important for a small business like us. So on Small Business Saturday, I have a request. If you are a subscriber, I don’t want you to spend any more money. I just want you to tell at least one person why you subscribe to the site. Use the hashtag #SubscribetoP2 in your social media posts, and we’ll share them. That word of mouth is the strongest endorsement we can get. I can talk about the value of this site all day, but if someone else hears about that value from an actual subscriber, they’ll be more likely to sign up.
If you aren’t a subscriber, then please join us! We have some Black Friday deals for new subscribers, along with other discounts below. Here are all of our deals, and details on how to claim them:
**New subscribers can get 10% off an Annual subscription using the code BLACKFRIDAY at checkout. Go here to subscribe.
**Looking for a holiday gift? You can get 10% off gift subscriptions on the products page with the code BLACKFRIDAY. Go here to purchase a gift certificate, along with other products.
**We are offering a sale on Pay It Forward subscriptions. The special price is $19.99, and allows you to purchase a subscription for a teacher, student, or several other professions. Go here to purchase a Pay It Forward gift.
**We also have the 2018 Prospect Guide available for pre-sales. There are no discounts available, although the eBook is at a low price of $19.99. You can also still pre-order one of the limited paperback books, with only about 300 available this year.
All sales will run through Tuesday, November 28th.